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US Eyes Burma's New Gas Deal

 .c The Associated Press 

NEW YORK (AP) -- Unocal Corp. paid Burma several million dollars in a deal
that expands the company's right to explore and develop gas fields off the
country's coast, The New York Times reported Saturday. 

The company announced the deal Thursday, but did not mention the payment. 

Also Thursday, the State Department released its annual human rights review,
which condemned the killing and torture of dissidents and ethnic minorities
in Burma. Because of the abuses, the Clinton administration is considering
whether to ban new American investment in the country. 

The Times said there has been increased discussion of sanctions against Burma
at the White House and the State Department in recent weeks. A new law allows
Clinton to impose sanctions if repression in Burma worsens or if opposition
leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, is detained. 

Unocal is the largest American investor in Burma. Company officials denied
that they rushed to complete the deal before an investment ban is imposed. 

``We do not believe that the sanctions are about to be implemented, and we
hope they won't be,'' company spokesman Barry Lane told the Times. ``We
believe sanctions are not good policy, and the best policy is engagement.'' 

Another major American company that operates in Burma, Pepsico Inc.,
announced earlier this week that it would pull out, in part due to protests
by human rights groups. 

Unocal and a French partner, Total, already are developing Burma's Yadana gas
field, a $1.2 billion project that includes a pipeline to pump gas to
Thailand. The new contract allows exploration of an adjacent field that
covers more than 4,200 square miles. 

The International Labor Organization has accused Burma of using forced labor
to guard the pipeline and the State Department has said there is evidence the
Burmese military has leveled towns in the pipeline's path. 

Unocal has said it has no evidence of such abuses and has said all the
Burmese it employs are well-paid. The State Department report agreed, saying,
``The preponderance of evidence indicates that the pipeline project has paid
its workers at least a market wage.'' 

AP-NY-01-31-97 2353EST